Biggest Challenges for Marketers in 2020 and How to Surmount Them

With the rapid pace of change in the pharmaceutical industry, pharma and medical device marketers are likely to face many challenges in 2020, from digital technology innovations to patient and HCP communications, working with PBMs, and creating content that grabs attention quickly and effectively. PM360 asked a number of experts in pharma and medical device marketing what they see coming down the pike in 2020. We asked:

  • What do you think will drive change and innovation in marketing in 2020?
  • Which changes do you think will be the biggest challenges, e.g., digital technology, operations in marketing such as team structuring and M&As, patient centricity or patient experience, reaching patients and HCPs, and what do you think the industry can do to prepare for them?
  • How necessary will it be for marketing teams to work more closely with sales to reach customers?
  • What types of communication channels will be most effective and game-changing for marketers?
  • What areas in messaging could be improved to meet the needs of patients, HCPs, and physicians?
  • What new types of support services can pharma marketers offer patients to help them get on needed medications and stay on them?
  • What new skills do you think marketers will need to stay current or even innovate their approach to both patients and HCPs?
  • What kind of challenges are creatives facing—from content to launch—in terms of grabbing attention in a noisy marketplace?

Croom Lawrence

Better management of the data of your most valuable customers will be the key success factor for pharma in 2020.  Whether in launch mode, maturity, or decline, solutions driving addressable audience management with more sophisticated personalization will be the underlying focus that stitches together disparate experiences into one seamless event stream.

Consumers and HCPs are suffering digital fatigue, and won’t “behave” like marketers want amidst the latest digital arms race. Giving customers preference over content will rebuild relevance, and give them control over how their own data can be used to deliver a valued experience. This singular activity will unlock brand trust in a new and more powerful way.

Emotionalized and automated, ideated and platformed, is the way creative teams are nurtured and fueled with data science that will allow marketers to unlock a stronger bond. Acknowledging that doing the right thing means pausing some channels while testing into a broader array of content fragments that may work for one individual, and not for another, will be the new norm. This in turn will support retention while driving higher engagement rates among the main stream and the most valuable few.

Innovations in data privacy will play a significant part. So too will more dynamic and people-based identity management systems—the true differentiator in 2020.  As the cloud-marketing platforms mature, hard data will separate the leaders from the pack. High reach to more qualified known individuals, at a more efficient cost, with a greater array of digital content will now be measured and managed like never before. The business cases will speak for themselves as marketers get more hands-on-keyboard time and gain confidence in dialing back the noise and putting dollars against more awesome content that patients and doctors will really value.

Deborah Lotterman

The most effective channels will always be those where the audience is showing up—and that is changing constantly. Just a few years ago, there were still marketers who believed that people over 60 and physicians weren’t spending time online. Now it’s a matter of chasing exactly where they are online. Just as marketers were getting comfortable with that, we’re seeing content and two-way communication moving back off-line into wearables, apps, and chats with bots via text. Speaking of game changing, if you want to find young adults, gaming will continue to grow as a channel. Also TikTok! Pinpointing the channel gets you in the game while delivering valuable content—that’s the win.

There’s tremendous opportunity at two levels. At the top of the funnel, where medical marketers seek to gain awareness, there’s a lesson to be learned from the current reigning political party. Keep it simple. Crystalize the key message in a crisp, compelling phrase, and lean into the timeless principles of reach and frequency. This sounds so easy. It’s extraordinarily difficult and too often, medical marketers don’t even come close.

Once prospects are customers, the real opportunity lies in abandoning the message mindset and moving into providing added value, high-quality connections, and communications. All of our audiences are increasingly savvy about marketing, starved for time, and grateful for authenticity. Those brands that can turn marketing into meaningful relationships will have the edge.

The challenge for creative is to change the mindset from grabbing attention to developing a deep understanding of the customer mindset that allows you to identify the channels, content to strike a chord. We need creative practitioners with wide-ranging interests and talents in behavioral psychology, pharmacology, philosophy, music, filmmaking, and pop culture.

In our agency, the definition of “creatives” is expanding. Our strategists, medical, and media teams—even account teams—are part of ideating the big ideas that underwrite long-lasting behavior change.

Denise Marcilio

We believe in an empowered consumer. Empowered consumers have more control over their health decisions than ever before. Our job is to meet those consumers where they are and make things seamless.

We also know that our customers expect their business partners to support them along the continuum of care. They want opportunities to serve patients, but at the same time operate a viable business, so that they can ultimately keep patients healthy.

McKesson has strong partnerships across these different types of customer channels that serve patients—retail pharmacies, health systems, specialty providers, and biopharma and life sciences companies. We remove customer roadblocks and enable them to improve care in every setting—one product, one partner, one patient at a time. That’s what will drive change in 2020.

And to be effective in this changing healthcare environment, three types of communications tactics should be utilized. First, digital content is key. The internet is such a powerful tool—digital content and marketing cannot be ignored. Second, we need to use tools that allow us to understand engagement with our content in order to refine what our customers need from us. Meaningful content means we’re understanding the conversations our customers want to have with us. What are the themes that they want to hear from us? What key topics can we propose solutions for? These tools help us show empathy for our customers’ concerns and know how we deliver value in the market.

Last, there are tools that help us anticipate or predict what type of content our customers are gravitating toward. In 2020, we’ll see a focus on hyper-personalization and hyper-targeting in marketing. Personalization matters. Customers care about their businesses, their specific challenges, and about reporting positive financial results to the C-suite. We need to provide the right solution and messaging to the right decision-maker, at the right time.

Emily Tower

Pharma has defined innovation as a center of excellence, an agenda item in weekly meetings, and a revered topic at pretty much every pharma conference. But when you look at who is innovating in healthcare, its the non-life sciences companies who are moving fast to get on board; Amazon is now a specialty pharmacy; Walmart is a healthcare provider; Headspace is a Digital Therapeutic; and Apple has FDA clearance for its Apple Watch. Even Mark Cuban is in the game and he is vying to disrupt pharmaceuticals—pricing and distribution to be exact. These players are all built for innovation. So, those of us in the industry should probably be tackling innovation with more than proofs of concepts or incremental gains. Instead, we need to place big bets and make some bold moves if pharma has any desire to keep up, or protect its standing in healthcare.

As I look at 2020 visions from CxOs of so many of our pharma clients, they all have similar goals—achieving patient centricity. How they define patient centricity has similarities, but how they go about solving for patient centricity really does not. Ironically, there are very few patients involved in so many of the plans to be more patient-centric. A critical skill that marketers and arguably even R&D need to hone is design thinking—the practice of human-centric design. While it might sound more creative than practical, it boils down to a pretty simple definition: It is a methodology that revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people for whom we’re designing the products and services. It helps us, the marketers, observe and develop empathy with our end users, our patients. Design thinking helps us as marketers question our assumptions, question the problems we think we need to solve, and instead, reframe problems in human-centric ways alongside our end user, ultimately leading to a set of much more useful solutions.

Gil Bashe

Drug costs have been a steady 14% of total health GDP, while other costs have climbed steadily over time. Yet, in the run up to 2020, Democrats and Republicans have determined that the pharma sector is the easy villain behind rising healthcare costs.

With an activist Congress and White House both looking to implement policies that can stifle drug development, pharma companies must elevate storytelling to ensure patients, payers, physicians, and policymakers have a clearer idea of the cost of not treating with newer medicines. The election cycle will drive marketing change—and bold marketers will rise, using data to tell why their medicines are a critical safety net against patient morbidity and mortality.

In 2020, “innovation beyond the pill” will soon be more than a slogan. Expect pharma companies to venture into platforms that combine medicines with Waze-like, digital-health directions and voices. For decades, innovation has been the domain of lab scientists and biochemists, but software will soon converge with molecular science: Enter the digital designer and programmer.

And for those battling life-threatening illness, access to medicine is life or death. What happens when reminders are essential to adherence? For some time, digital technologies have enabled medical device companies to track illness and share data, for example, playing a vital role in diabetes management and monitoring heart function. Now, biopharma companies are ready to deploy technology to help medicines do their best work by ensuring they are used consistently. When technology begins to modify behavior to effectively encourage use, suddenly illness is arrested—physician and patient begin to see health improve. When prescriptions remain idle in the medicine chest, no one benefits. Digital therapeutics will become a standard.

Heidi Anderson

A visit to the physician’s office is one of the most important steps in a patient’s healthcare journey. Recognizing this, pharma brands, as well as healthcare and lifestyle advocacy groups, push messages at these “point of care” touchpoints hoping to attract patient interest and engagement. But what some of these brands and content creators don’t realize is that the needs of patients, HCPs, and physicians change at each moment of the healthcare journey, even within the point of care space. Think about it—the needs and experience when you’re sitting in the waiting room are much different than in the exam room when you’re finally face to face with your doctor.

We, as healthcare marketers, need to lead with empathy and ensure that the content we’re offering meets the needs at each unique moment of the health journey. In a recent study we did with IQVIA, we discovered that doctors want to improve the health IQ of their patients by providing a mix of healthy lifestyle and clinical information on the screens in their offices to support the discussions they’re having. We also learned that patients, nurses, and physicians all want more personalization in the content—we can’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Content must be tailored to each device and to the unique needs of the patient and HCP at that moment. For example, while the waiting room is a great place to educate and more broadly create awareness, conversations in the exam room should dig deeper and physicians should have access to tools to illustrate details like disease progression and treatment options. And perhaps, most importantly, it is how we frame the content. Context really matters and plays a huge role in enhancing the experience and driving engagement.

Rich Levy

Grabbing attention is an issue that isn’t just facing creatives, and it goes way beyond the vast number of communication outlets and the short attention spans of today’s audiences. The challenge is bravery.

In today’s ROI world, where we measure the effectiveness of every tactic against multiple target audiences hourly, I’m shocked at how much ordinary work is sent out into the marketplace expecting an exponential return. I’m disappointed by work that plays to the least common denominator. There’s no question that this is becoming commonplace. The question is, how did we get here? And how did we decide that good enough was good enough?

I have two hypotheses: One has to do with fear. The other involves money.

1. I believe many agency folks are just plain afraid of challenging the status quo with their clients. They don’t take the time to build a true relationship, nor do they have the sorts of real discussions about the work that can lead to braver ideas. Small changes to creative can have a huge impact. And if you add up many months of small changes, you can end up with creative that won’t grab anyone’s attention by the time a new product launches.

Now I know this is a great over-simplification. But I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Teams are afraid to discuss the impact of changes with their clients. And sometimes—not always—to get to work that can cut through and command attention, you need to say no.

2. The other theory comes down to the fact that it’s generally less expensive to do ordinary work.You can hire more junior-level talent. Spend less time in development. And recycle work that other clients didn’t buy. You can make a lot of money by not even trying to be brave enough to break through. You can settle on being good enough. Not offending. Not making people stop and think.

So, what is the greatest challenge? It’s finding people who aspire to greatness. Who aspire to do brave work. And who won’t settle for good enough.

Tom Kottler

As we shift to a pay-for-performance model, supporting optimal patient adherence will be central to the long-term success of any brand to treat a chronic condition. By developing robust patient support systems, pharmaceutical marketers can deliver on multiple objectives.

Increased adherence results in patients getting more benefit from their medications and pharma generating more revenue from increased product utilization—and it provides pharmaceutical marketers with valuable data establishing the full benefits of a medication offered with essential patient support.

Today’s pharmaceutical marketers are not just competing with other life sciences companies—they are competing with every experience that captures a patient’s attention. This becomes especially important when providing ongoing patient services that provide daily support, education, and encouragement.

If you want a patient’s recurring time, then you need to focus on creating an experience that is, first and foremost, consistently enjoyable. The challenge, then, for a pharmaceutical marketer, is how can you create an experience that is fun and engaging and, at the same time, contributes to improved health outcomes.

Sara Payne

Today’s modern consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, make buying decisions not solely based on how well the product can meet their needs, but also what the brand stands for. They want to purchase from brands with a well-articulated mission and purpose to support social issues important to them.

Brands that lean in heavily on their purpose and deploy purpose-driven messaging and storytelling will win. That is why marketing leaders continue to expand thought leadership and brand publishing strategies. It’s intuitive for healthcare companies because healthcare is often mission-driven—advancing care quality, improving access, and helping people live healthier lives.

Thought leadership enables you to communicate how you’re living out your company’s purpose and benefiting the communities you serve. And I mean true thought leadership. It requires taking a stance on key issues within the space your company plays in a non-promotional way. Create content that educates, that communicates how you’re reinventing the status quo, and that inspires industry-changing action. That’s the only way to truly cut through the noise, in a differentiated way.

At the same time, the integration of marketing and customer experience presents a huge challenge. We live in the era of the consumer. And healthcare, as an industry, is behind. The expectations of a rich consumer experience are the same for healthcare as they are for Netflix and Uber. And right now, that isn’t happening.

Healthcare CMOs must evaluate every aspect of the consumer experience and figure out how to make it more convenient and frictionless. This may require some tough decisions and discussions, but it doesn’t need to be insurmountable. Work cross-functionally to identify the biggest gaps across the company and how marketing can help close them. Prioritize them based on what will create the most-needed change, and then break them down into smaller, digestible steps. That way you make steady, measurable progress toward your goal and use budget more effectively.

Jay Carter

Every national election year is painful for the pharmaceutical industry, and 2020 won’t be an exception. I suppose it’s only fair. Once again, in Forbes’ annual survey of the most and least trusted professions, members of Congress came in dead last. During election years, they can lessen their pain by flogging the pharmaceutical industry. This past year, the Gallup poll once again found our industry to be dead last among 25 different industries in the U.S.

The 2020 election year will be even more stressful for pharma because there are few places to hide. Angst over drug pricing is bipartisan now. Expect to have your profession questioned on a regular basis between now and mid-November 2020. We are a target.

What can we do? My best advice is to address the issue both personally and politically. On the personal side, formulate that very intimate story of how what you do for a living makes a difference in people’s lives. What we do affects how ethical pharmaceutical agents are promoted, and that makes a real difference in people’s daily lives. In the late ’90s, I worked on a team that helped change the paradigm for how early-stage breast cancer was treated. I’m still buoyed to this day by the difference that made in thousands of women’s lives. I’m sure every reader will have a story that reinforces the good that we do professionally. Marketers of vodka just don’t have that.

Politically, support the organizations that advocate for our profession. If you are a product manager, recognize that PhRMA and BIO work hard to promote the value of pharma research and products. If you work in medical communications like I do, support the Coalition for Healthcare Communications, which advocates for our profession daily in D.C.

Caroline Eick

At CultHealth, we’re finding that both professional and consumer audiences need a narrative that tells more than the typical efficacy, safety, and dosing stories, and messaging that expresses higher order, long-term benefits. It’s less about the product and more about the ultimate emotional benefit.

We’re not simply imparting knowledge through messaging—we’re trying to change beliefs. By designing a strategic and purposeful dialogue, we’re able to change minds and change behaviors.

In terms of new services, whether you’re overcoming parity, challenging noise from competitors, struggling to build awareness, or facing budget challenges, a patient support program can differentiate a brand while helping patients stay on their medications. At CultHealth, we’ve experienced success through TEXTURE, our mobile engagement patient support program.

TEXTURE is a high-engagement SMS patient program promoted to HCPs via the sales force. Not only is TEXTURE an organic and convenient way to reach and help patients, but it also raises prescriber confidence with insight from patient-level data. Once a patient enrolls, they will receive text messages with reminders to refill or take their medication, motivational content, and even survey questions.

Marketers can feel confident about increasing prescriptions, and HCPs can feel confident about increasing patient adherence and comfort. And TEXTURE is a HIPAA-compliant process with HITRUST secure data management.

Matthew Dawson

It will absolutely be necessary for sales and marketing to work more closely together. We’re in a relational selling environment with long sales cycles; alignment and partnership between sales and marketing is critical to success. Marketing’s #1 job is to win the hearts and minds of salespeople, giving them something to believe in, helping them to align our unique value to the issues and challenges our customers face.

While we need to be close to our sales teams, we need to think beyond boots on the street. Digital campaigns, websites, thought-leadership content, social, and other education opportunities are essential to expanding reach and preparing the market for your team to be successful. While salespeople can only be in front of one person at a time, marketing makes connections for hundreds at once. We are part of a selling environment more complex than even 10 years ago. Our sales teams must be delivering message and value aligned with our multichannel efforts to truly deliver on our goals.

The biggest challenge, though, is establishing strong differentiation in an era of commoditization. It’s critical, especially when regulation for assay requirements is so exacting. The feeling among customers may be that meeting regulations is enough, but our challenge is to go further—create and prove value for our customers in unique and appealing ways. Maybe we do this through better lab flow, innovating to help patients leave the hospital faster for cost reduction and increased quality of life, improving hospital health systems’ offerings through exemplary consistency and reliability, or through expanded education and support.

In the face of rising healthcare costs, why not hire the cheapest? The challenge for us is creating true differentiation in the space through unique, long-term value. We must exceed the standard, proving we understand client problems and issues, and provide a broad range of solutions with value beyond bottom-line product cost.


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